As Anger Over Messi's Absence in Hong Kong Game Spreads to Mainland China, Organizer Offers Refunds
The organizer of a much-hyped soccer match that intended to showcase Lionel Messi in Hong Kong says it will offer a 50% refund following days of backlash from angry fans and the government over the absence of the World Cup winner
The organizer of a highly anticipated soccer match in Hong Kong meant to feature Lionel Messi, announced on Friday that it would provide a 50% refund in response to widespread backlash. Angry fans and the government expressed displeasure over Messi's absence due to a groin injury, with grievances extending to mainland China.
Hong Kong fans were disappointed as Messi stayed on the bench for the entire 90 minutes against a local team. The frustration escalated when Messi played for 30 minutes in Inter Miami&rsquo's exhibition match in Tokyo on Wednesday. Mainland China, too, voiced disappointment, with social media users expressing their discontent, and China's Global Times publishing an editorial stating the controversy's impact goes beyond sports.
The local organizer, Tatler Asia, apologized on Instagram, expressing concern about the perceived lack of respect towards the crowd. The organizer revealed efforts to persuade Inter Miami&rsquo's management to have Messi address spectators proved unsuccessful.
Tatler Asia disclosed ongoing discussions with the government to resolve the issue, and details of the refund would be announced by mid-March. It pledged a 50% refund for those who purchased tickets through official channels, amounting to 56 million Hong Kong dollars ($7.2 million).
The Hong Kong government welcomed the responsible move but emphasized lingering questions and sought a reasonable explanation from Inter Miami. Tatler Asia, facing a loss of 43 million Hong Kong dollars ($5.5 million) after the refund, withdrew its funding application from the city government earlier.
Messi, addressing the PR disaster, explained his absence at a Tokyo news conference. However, his participation in the Tokyo match intensified criticism. The Global Times suggested political motives, speculating on deliberate embarrassment to Hong Kong.
Regina Ip, a Hong Kong Executive Council member, expressed strong disapproval on social media. Some Chinese users on Weibo opposed Messi's return, while others defended him. The global promotional tour concluded in Tokyo, with Inter Miami winning only one of six games. The preseason concludes on Feb. 16 against Newell’s Old Boys in Florida, Messi's boyhood club. Many anticipate Messi finishing his career there